To make the playoffs, the Lakers need to be better than seven teams in the Western Conference.
In 13 previous side-by-side comparisons, the Lakers have been ruled better than the New Orleans Pelicans, Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings, Minnesota Timberwolves and Utah Jazz, but not as good as the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Denver Nuggets and Clippers.A strong season from the nearly even Portland Trail Blazers could push the Lakers to ninth place in the conference.
Are the Lakers better than the Dallas Mavericks?
The Mavericks picked up Jose Calderon via free agency this summer, adding a player similar to the Lakers' Steve Nash. Calderon is a top-notch playmaker and shooter. Like Nash, he's not known for his defense.
Calderon is also "just" 32 years old, young in relation to Nash's 39. The Lakers are hoping Nash can regain his form after a difficult, injury-ridden season.
The Mavericks also have veteran Devin Harris at the point along with rookies Gal Mekel and Shane Larkin. Monta Ellis can play some point, although he's a scorer first, second and third.
The Lakers brought back Jordan Farmar and have veteran Steve Blake to help keep Nash's minutes in hand.
The two teams are about even at point, assuming Nash is relatively healthy this season. If anything, the Mavericks may be slightly better.
Health is a recurring theme for the Lakers, specifically that of Kobe Bryant and his surgically repaired left Achilles' tendon, which was torn in April.
At full strength, Bryant gives the Lakers the advantage over just about every team at shooting guard -- but will he recover and play at a high level this season?
Dallas added one of the league's top scorers at the position in Ellis. The Mavericks also have veteran Vince Carter and brought in Wayne Ellington and Ricky Ledo. Forward Jae Crowder can also play some shooting guard.
The Lakers might use Blake with steady minutes behind Bryant, along with Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, Wesley Johnson, Xavier Henry and Darius Johnson-Odom (the last two are camp invitees who still have to make the team).
For the Lakers to have any serious success this season, Bryant is going to have to be a big part of it. Regardless, Dallas is also a formidable team at the two.
The Mavericks have veteran leadership at small forward with Shawn Marion. The younger Crowder has shown a lot of promise. Carter can also play small forward.
Dallas also invited former Laker Devin Ebanks to camp, although he might be a long shot to make the regular-season roster.
Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni could start offensive-minded Young at small forward with Johnson backing him up as the stronger defender. Young could also start at the two spot initially, while Bryant recovers, with Johnson starting at the three.
Bryant might also play significant minutes at the three.
Shawne Williams, Marcus Landry, Elias Harris and Henry, each fighting to make the final roster, bring shooting and toughness to the position. Harris is more of a D'Antoni four who needs to develop his outside shot but brings versatility to the floor.
The Lakers have potential at small forward but the Mavericks are more reliable.
Dirk Nowitzki is coming off a difficult season, playing 53 games after knee surgery. He still averaged 17.3 points a game on 47.1% shooting from the field and 41.4% from three-point range.
At 35 years old, Nowitzki is still one of the best at his position in the game. He doesn't have the explosiveness of a Blake Griffin, but Nowitzki is one of the NBA's most dangerous shooters.
It's still not clear what D'Antoni will do at power forward. Pau Gasol and Chris Kaman have shown chemistry together, which might make Gasol the starting power forward.
Gasol, like Nowitzki, is a little bit past his prime but still dangerous. After a summer rehabbing his knees, the 7-footer is hoping to have a resurgent season.
If Gasol starts at center, Nowitzki is better than anyone the Lakers might play at power forward.
Shawne Williams is an option as a defensive-minded stretch four. Other options could be Jordan Hill or even rookie Ryan Kelly, though he still has to make the team. Harris and Johnson might get time at the four in reserve roles.
Dallas also signed DeJuan Blair and can play Brandan Wright and Marion at power forward.
Samuel Dalembert is expected to start at center for the Mavericks. The defensive-minded center has struggled at times with consistency but he's certainly a capable shot-blocker.
Dallas will also play Bernard James and Wright at center. Nowitzki can also play the five.
The Mavericks signed Fab Melo, but there might not be roster space to keep him.
If the Lakers go with Gasol at center they have the advantage, but with a weaker lineup at power forward.
Kaman is better offensively than Dalembert. Hill and Robert Sacre bring youth and energy to the position.
With Gasol in the center rotation, the Lakers are stronger than the Mavericks.
Who is better?
Last year Dallas struggled to win games until Nowitzki got healthy. Chemistry issues didn't help as they finished the year with 41 wins, missing the playoffs.
This year, Dallas will be a more formidable opponent, ending somewhere in the 43-48 win range.
The Lakers are probably lower, in the 40-45 range. Certainly the team has potential to exceed that if everyone is healthy, specifically Bryant.
Catching the Mavericks is feasible, but on paper it's the Lakers doing the chasing.
The Lakers should finish ahead of the Pelicans, Suns, Kings, Timberwolves and Jazz. It's going to take a very strong, healthy year for the Lakers to finish ahead of the Trail Blazers and Mavericks.
Unless a team like the Nuggets significantly falters, the Lakers will finish in eighth, ninth or 10th place in the West -- worse if Bryant struggles to regain his form or the roster struggles with injuries like it did a year ago.
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